The state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) appears to have found no illegal spending in the failed gubernatorial campaign of Seattle radio talk-show host John Carlson. At press time Tuesday, Doug Ellis, a PDC spokesperson, said the weeklong state review indicates that leftover campaign funds were not misused but that an official finding had not been reached.
The preliminary review was prompted by a complaint filed last week by a fellow Republican, former attorney general candidate Richard L. Pope. A Shoreline attorney, Pope claims Carlson wrongly spent donations from his unsuccessful run against Democratic Gov. Gary Locke. The spending includes assorted restaurant tabs and more than $30,000 Carlson paid his wife in consulting fees since the November 2000 election.
"If the truth be said, I would have been much more pleased finding something like this on Locke's PDC reports instead of Carlson's," Pope said this week. Nonetheless, "Imagine what Carlson would have said on his radio talk show if Locke came up with a way to give $30,000 out of his campaign fund to [wife] Mona. Even if there weren't the legal issues, giving so much money to one's wife—even after the election—has got to be politically stupid."
The ex-candidate began paying his wife consulting fees on the day of the election, Nov. 5, 2000, giving her two payments of $4,109.73 each on that date. She received $5,400 the following month and $1,500 a month thereafter. She received the final payment, $1,500, last October. In an interview, Carlson said the payments to wife Lisa Carlson were justified and that she was actually undercompensated for the time handling post-campaign books and chores.
According to PDC figures from the campaign fund, Carlson drew $2.8 million in donations. Around $101,000 was left after the election. He has spent or donated about $73,000, leaving $28,000 in the bank as of this week.
"This is not another Tim Eyman case," Carlson says, referring to initiative king Eyman, who is facing PDC charges for failing to report the use of campaign donations intermingled in various bank accounts that he and his wife spent on personal and household items. "Unlike him, every expense is legitimate, above board, and fully reported."
Generally, campaign accounts are closed, or the money is donated or transferred elsewhere; others are left open and designated as accounts for a new run at political office, as required by law. Carlson has not announced his political intentions and last week indicated he did not yet have any.
Pope likely holds a grudge, Carlson says, because Carlson endorsed Democratic Attorney General Christine Gregoire over Pope for re-election in 2000.
Others have quietly raised questions about his post-campaign spending, Carlson revealed, including most recently reporters from Seattle and Tacoma daily newspapers. But after checking with the PDC, they opted not to write about the issue, he says.
However, there was apparently no official complaint for the PDC to consider until Pope filed his claim. In his letter to Phil Stutzman, the PDC's director of compliance, Pope says, "It would appear the vast majority of the $73,614.87 in payments other than charitable donations made by Mr. Carlson from his surplus campaign funds after November 30, 2000, were in violation [of state law]."
Much of the spending, including the money paid Carlson's wife, Pope says, is "probably not at all connected with Mr. Carlson's 2000 election campaign. . . . [He] is using these surplus campaign funds in many cases for evidently new expenditures. . . . "
A twice-failed attorney general candidate who last year lost his bid for the Seattle Port Commission, Pope says that if Carlson had filed to run for governor again in 2004, "it would probably have been legal for him to spend his money this way— assuming, of course, his wife was doing legitimate work and there was a reason for all those restaurant meals and so on.
"But if he'd done that, all of those afternoon commuters would have been deprived of the opportunity to hear him on KVI, since there is some FCC rule about political candidates having radio shows."
Retorts Carlson: "You can tell a lot about the quality of a complaint by the people who file them."